Chinese archaeologists have recently found fragments of pottery in Xianrendong Cave, Jiangxi Province in China, that date back about 20,000 years.
The archaeologists have assumed that Xianrendong pottery was produced by mobile foragers who hunted and gathered during the Late Glacial Maximum.
“This new discovery suggests that hunter-gatherers in East Asia used pottery for cooking at least 10,000 years before farming appeared in that part of the world,” said Dr Xiaohong Wu, an archaeologist at Peking University in Beijing, China, and lead author of a paper reporting the discovery in the journal Science.
“East Asian hunter-gatherers may have set up seasonal camps 20,000 years ago, where they made pottery,” added Dr Zhijun Zhao, an archaeologist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing. “Xianrendong pottery probably had many purposes, including boiling clams and snails.”
The archaeologists also collected about 45 samples of bone and charcoal from soil layers at Xianrendong Cave. Radiocarbon measurements point to initial human use of the cave from about 29,000 to 17,500 years ago.
Pottery fragments from Xianrendong cave are 2,000 to 3,000 years older than pottery from another Chinese cave, which had previously held the age record.
“Such research efforts are fundamental for a better understanding of socio-economic change (25,000 to 19,000 years ago) and the development that led to the emergency of sedentary agricultural societies,” said Dr Gideon Shelach of the Hebrew University in Israel, author of an accompanying paper in the journal Science.
“The disconnection between pottery and agriculture as shown in east Asia might shed light on specifics of human development in the region.”
Bibliographic information: Wu X et al. 2012. Early Pottery at 20,000 Years Ago in Xianrendong Cave, China. Science 29 June 2012, vol. 336, no. 6089, pp. 1696-1700; doi: 10.1126/science.1218643